Gustavo Fernandez marks world No.1 with revealing interview
Para sports in Argentina are reaching new heights in terms of promotion thanks to wheelchair tennis player Gustavo Fernandez.
Last Monday, the 23-year-old became the first Argentinian world singles No.1 in either able-bodied or wheelchair tennis. The main national media outlets reflected his achievement, with La Nación - Argentina's second largest newspaper - featuring him on the front page.
In an extensive interview with journalist Sebastian Torok from La Nación, Fernandez talked about reaching the men's singles No.1 position in the world rankings, what it is like living with an impairment and his philosophy of life.
“I always dreamed about that (being world No.1). Always,” he said. “When I wanted to be a basketball player, I used to say I wanted to play at the NBA of wheelchair basketball. When I started to play tennis, I said I wanted to be world No.1.
“When I was a kid, everyone laughed, they found me nice. But I was convinced. When you are a kid, you do not know all the sacrifices you need to make to achieve something like that. But even when I realised that, I still wanted to be No.1.
“I wanted to be the best tennis player I could be and if that took me to that position [No.1], perfect.”
Fernandez described the moment the International Tennis Federation (ITF) published the updated rankings. “I had been dealing well with my emotions, I was almost too calm. But suddenly, when I saw myself on top of the rankings, it hit me so hard, I started crying.”
His success also came at a huge financial cost, due to the lack of support from private sponsors. “Since you are disabled, they do not respect and value you as the athlete you are,” Fernandez explained.
“I feel that if a private company supported me, it would be a reward for so many years of effort. Anyway, I am tired of feeling that I am begging. I want them to respect and value me as the athlete I am.”
According to Fernandez, life in Argentina for a person with impairment is not an easy one. “It is believed that because you are disabled, you cannot do anything. Before finding your limitation, they already put you one.
“If people understood that a person with impairment can develop themselves naturally, work or study, they would understand an athlete on a wheelchair is a professional.
“I am like everyone else: I get up, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, have breakfast. Instead of going to an office or to study like my friends, I go to training.”
Two years ago, a video circulated on the internet of Fernandez falling out of his wheelchair, then getting back up and winning the point. That moment, he believes, sums up his way of thinking.
“I fall, it’s okay, I move forward, I hit the ball, stand up and hit again. It is like that. Life is like that.”
The full story can be read (in Spanish) on La Nación´s website.